Regular Verbs in Irish

Present tense has the following endings:



caithir/caitheann tú

caitheann sé

caithimid/caitheann muid

caitheann sibh

caithid/caitheann siad




fanair/fanann tú

fanann sé

fanaimid/fanann muid

fanann sibh

fanaid/fanann siad




osclaír/osclaíonn tú

osclaíonn sé

osclaímid/osclaíonn muid

osclaíonn sibh

osclaíd/osclaíonn siad




lagaír/lagaíonn tú

lagaíonn sé

lagaímid/lagaíonn muid

lagaíonn sibh

lagaíd/lagaíonn siad


The form caithim, fanaim, osclaím, lagaím is necessary in the standard language. The second person singular forms caithir, fanair, osclaír, lagaír are very rare these days, but they do find some use in literature – even such a quintessentially Connemara writer as Pádhraic Óg Ó Conaire (not to be confused with the more famous Pádraic Ó Conaire; Pádhraic Óg was a writer of rural prose in a style somewhat reminiscent of the Ulster classic Séamus Ó Grianna) perceived them as the correct literary forms.

The form caithimid, fanaimid, osclaímid, lagaímid is also standard Irish, but for many verbs of the first conjugation this form sounds too much like the corresponding future form. I would prefer caitheann muid, fanann muid, osclaíonn muid, lagaíonn muid. The construction caitheann sinn, fanann sinn, osclaíonn sinn, lagaíonn sinn sounds a little funny to me, because in those varieties that feel most natural to me, there is at least a tendency to distinguish between muid “we” and sinn “us”. However, this is strictly my own gut feeling. I have seen sinn used as subject in some folklore volumes (I think mostly from Northern Mayo), and thus, caitheann sinn, fanann sinn, osclaíonn sinn, lagaíonn sinn have good Gaeltacht pedigree.  

The form caithid, fanaid, osclaíd, lagaíd is strictly Munster Irish, and it can be followed by the pronoun siad; don’t be amazed if you see caithid siad, fanaid siad, osclaíd siad, lagaíd siad in a Munster text.

The direct relative form (see my earlier post about direct relative forms!) chaitheas/chaitheanns, fhanas/fhananns, osclaíos/osclaíonns, lagaíos/lagaíonns is most typical of Connacht and Ulster Irish. It is not entirely unknown to Munster Irish though, where it is used in songs, i.e. perceived to be part of older (oral) literature. The form in -s is the older and historically correct one, the form in -nns smacks more of modern colloquial language. 

The verbal particles used with regular present forms are “not”, go “that”, nach/ná “that…not” and “not?, whether…not?”, an “…?, whether?”, and cha(n)

lenites: ní chaitheann, ní fhanann, ní osclaíonn, ní lagaíonn. Go eclipses: go gcaitheann, go bhfanann, go n-osclaíonn, go lagaíonn. 

Nach eclipses: nach gcaitheann, nach bhfanann, nach n-osclaíonn, nach lagaíonn

, which is used in Munster instead of nach, does not affect consonants, but it adds h- to a vowel: ná caitheann, ná fanann, ná hosclaíonn, ná lagaíonn

An eclipses: an gcaitheann, an bhfanann, an osclaíonn, an lagaíonn

Cha(n) is only used in Ulster, and it adds future sense to present forms; it usually lenites, but it eclipses d and t and does not affect s-: cha chaitheann, chan fhanann, chan osclaíonn (which is chan fhosclaíonn in Ulster!), cha lagaíonn; cha ndíolann, cha dtarcaisníonn, cha samhlaíonn. Note that the -n of cha(n) is only used before vowels, including vowels preceded by the mute fh-.

Future tense has the following endings: 


caithfead/caithfidh mé

caithfir/caithfidh tú

caithfidh sé

caithfeam/caithfimid/caithfidh muid

caithfidh sibh

caithfid/caithfidh siad



fanfad/fanfaidh mé

fanfair/fanfaidh tú

fanfaidh sé

fanfam/fanfaimid/fanfaidh muid

fanfaidh sibh

fanfaid/fanfaidh siad



osclód/osclóidh mé

osclóir/osclóidh tú

osclóidh sé

osclóm/osclóimid/osclóidh muid

osclóidh sibh

osclóid/osclóidh siad



lagód/lagóidh mé

lagóir/lagóidh tú

lagóidh sé

lagóm/lagóimid/lagóidh muid

lagóidh sibh

lagóid/lagóidh siad


As you see, the short verbs (first conjugation) insert a -f-, the long verbs (the second conjugation) insert a long -ó-. How and whether the -f- is pronounced at all, is a question of dialect, but a pronunciation of this -f- as [h] elsewhere and as [f] in the impersonal (autonomous) form (caithfear, fanfar, osclófar, lagófar) is widely accepted. Note that the [h] pronunciation in many verbs amounts to the devoicing of a previous consonant: scríobhfaidh will be pronounced as if written /scríofaidh/.

The final -idh is almost or entirely mute in Connemara, a short [i] in Ulster, and of course an [-ig] in Munster.

The long -ó- is of course written -eo- after a slender consonant, as in the verb saibhrigh:

saibhreod/saibhreoidh mé

saibhreoir/saibhreoidh tú

saibhreoidh sé

saibhreom/saibhreoimid/saibhreoidh muid

saibhreoidh sibh

saibhreoid/saibhreoidh siad


In Ulster, the forms with the long -ó- have audibly two syllables, so that the -óidh/-eoidh ending is pronounced [axi] or [ahi], which is commonly written as -óchaidh/-eochaidh. Thus, saibhreochaidh, lagóchaidh and so on.

One feature that is not exclusively Ulster Irish although most common in Ulster literature is the intrusive future. Intrusive future forms are possible with syncopated verbs, i.e. those which drop the second syllable of the stem before the endings – such as oscail here, although it is most commonly foscail in Ulster. Anyway, such verbs as foscail can take the two-syllable future forms all right: fosclóchaidh; but it is also possible that the long ó intrudes into the stem: foscólfaidh

Note that in Ulster the long but unstressed o turns into a short but clear a sound (which is also a common way to pronounce the short and stressed o sound), so that the difference between the two future forms is basically very slight: fosclóchaidh is pronounced [fasklahi] but foscólfaidh [faskalhi].

As I noted, the intrusive future is not unique to Ulster, but I first became conscious of it reading Cora Cinniúna, i.e. the short stories of Séamus Ó Grianna. I am sure, though, that there is an instance of tosónfaidh somewhere in Peig. Tosónfaidh is the intrusive future of tosnaigh!/tosnú, which is the Munster dialect form of tosaigh!/tosú.

The verbs ending in -áil such as sábháil, seiceáil are basically first conjugation: sábhálfaidh, seiceálfaidh (note that the consonant becomes broad before the future ending). However, in Ulster ears the -álfaidh part sounds exactly the same as the -ólfaidh of the intrusive future, so that these verbs tend to be perceived as second conjugation. (In fact, in Séamus Ó Grianna’s stories as edited by Niall Ó Donaill, such spellings as sábhólfaidh are used, so as to convey how these verb forms are perceived by a speaker of traditional Ulster Irish.) This then leads to the introduction of such non-intrusive second conjugation forms as sábhlóchaidh and such second-conjugation verbal nouns as sábhailt. Thus, in Ulster the -áil verbs tend to drift into the second conjugation. 

The forms with personal endings are, as usual, most typically used in Munster Irish. The forms caithfead, fanfad, osclód, lagód and caithfir, fanfair, osclóir, lagóir are part of most good speakers’ passive knowledge. On the other hand, while the forms caithfeam, fanfam, osclóm, lagóm are the historically correct forms for first person plural, these days they are very exclusively Munster Irish and are not even understood elsewhere. In fact, I was already quite fluent in the language when I first met these forms.

And as you should remember from my post on relative clauses, there is a direct relative form: chaithfeas, fhanfas, osclós, lagós.

In correct Irish, future is not used after ‘if’, but it is used after nuair ‘when’, when there is a future form in the main clause. The nuair clause is historically a direct relative clause, and can take the relative -s. Thus, the following are correct:

Má thagann sé abhaile, beidh lúcháir orainn.

Nuair a thiocfaidh sé abhaile, beidh lúcháir orainn.

Nuair a thiocfas sé abhaile, beidh lúcháir orainn.

The first example means ‘If he comes home, we’ll be happy’, the two others, ‘When he comes home, we’ll be happy’.

Subjunctive present has the ending -e in first conjugation forms and -í in second conjugation forms:

go gcaithe mé, tú, sé. muid, sibh, siad

go gcaitear

go bhfana mé, tú, sé, muid, sibh, siad

go bhfantar

go n-osclaí mé, tú, sé, muid, sibh, siad

go n-osclaítear

go lagaí mé, tú, sé, muid, sibh, siad

go lagaítear

If personal endings are used with subjunctive present, they are the same as those of future, but without the -f-/-ó-, -eo-; go gcaithead, go bhfanad, go n-osclaíod, go lagaíod for first person singular, go gcaitheam, go bhfanam, go n-osclaíom, go lagaíom for first person plural, for instance. Subjunctive present is used in optative expressions, i.e. wishes: go n-éirí leat “may you be successful”, nár lagaí Dia do lámh “may God not weaken your hand”, i.e. “more power to you”. Note that go eclipses, but nár lenites. Moreover, subjunctive present is used after mura/mara/muna “unless”, sula/sara “before” when the main sentence has future. (However, in modern language, future has mostly ousted this usage of the present subjunctive.)

Past tense, or the punctual past. This corresponds only partly to the English past tense. It has a stronger sense of perfectivity, i.e. the action having been completed, than the English past tense, and can often be used for translating the English perfect or pluperfect tense. Let’s take an example. Right now, there is a news item at that can be expressed in one sentence: “A Texas teenager was found guilty of murdering an Iraqi man who had just arrived in the United States.” As they say, no news is good news, and news tends to be bad news, but if I want to translate this into Irish, I will use the past tense: ciontaíodh déagóir ó Texas i ndúnmharú fir Iarácaigh nár tháinig go dtí na Stáit Aontaithe ach go gairid roimhe sin. (Or, if you prefer so: fuarthas déagóir ó Texas ciontach i ndúnmharú…

So much about usage, but let’s talk about morphology.


chaitheas/chaith mé

chaithis/chaith tú

chaith sé

chaitheamar/chaith muid

chaitheabhair/chaith sibh

chaitheadar/chaith siad



d’fhanas/d’fhan mé

d’fhanais/d’fhan tú

d’fhan sé

d’fhanamar/d’fhan muid

d’fhanabhair/d’fhan sibh

d’fhanadar/d’fhan siad



d’osclaíos/d’oscail mé

d’osclaís/d’oscail tú

d’oscail sé

d’osclaíomar/d’oscail muid

d’osclaíobhair/d’oscail sibh

d’osclaíodar/d’oscail siad



lagaíos/lagaigh mé

lagaís/lagaigh tú

lagaigh sé

lagaíomar/lagaigh muid

lagaíobhair/lagaigh sibh

lagaíodar/lagaigh siad


The regular past basically takes the particles níor, ar, gur, nár, char, which lenite. However, the regular past autonomous form resists this lenition: níor fhan, gur fhan, nár fhan, ar fhan, níor chaith, gur chaith, nár chaith, ar chaith, but níor fanadh, gur fanadh, nár fanadh, ar fanadh, níor caitheadh, nár caitheadh, gur caitheadh, ar caitheadh. Only in the dialect of Waterford, the past autonomous form of the regular verb is permanently lenited. I never knew this, before I started to read folklore texts in that particular dialect (you can find them in the yearbook of the Ring of Waterford Gaeltacht, An Linn Bhuí, or in the folklore collections Ar Bóthar Dom and Leabhar Mhaidhc Dháith).

On the other hand, the -r particles are disappearing in Kerry Irish, and you should not be amazed to find such forms as go gcaith sé, go gcaitheas, go gcaitheadar in texts written by Kerry natives – note though that such older writers as Pádraig Ua Maoileoin, while writing in unadulterated Kerry dialect, did use the -r particles in past tense. Maidhc Dainín Ó Sé on the other hand seems to write as he speaks, so his books are full of such forms as go gcaitheas

As usually, the personal endings are typically confined to Munster Irish (although older generation Connacht writers such as Pádhraic Óg Ó Conaire do make use of them too). I could not care less about which are accepted as part of standard language, but my impression is that first person singular forms (chaitheas, d’fhanas, d’osclaíos, lagaíos) and second person singular forms (chaithis, d’fhanais, d’osclaís, lagaís) as well as second person plural forms (chaitheabhair, d’fhanabhair, d’osclaíobhair, lagaiobhair) are strictly Munster Irish these days, while the -amar and -adar suffixes are more mainstream. Note by the way that in Kerry, -amar has the form -amair.

Adding a hiatus h- to the initial vowel of the past autonomous form is not standard, but it is quite widespread.

In Munster, do can be used even where the past tense form begins with a consonant (and in Munster folklore volumes reproducing the exact pronunciation, you should not be surprised to see things like do dh’fhanas). 

Conditional mood. In Irish, conditional mood is the same for present and past: dhéanfainn é means both “I would do it” and “I would have done it”. It has the following forms:




chaithfeadh sé


chaithfeadh sibh






d’fhanfadh sé


d’fhanfadh sibh






d’osclódh sé


d’osclódh sibh






lagódh sé


lagódh sibh



As in the past tense, the first consonant is lenited, and a d’ is added to an initial vowel or fh-. However, the -r- particles are never used – you use go, nach (ná), ní, cha(n), an: an bhfanfá? ní fhanfainn! chan fhanfainn! nach bhfanfadh sé? (Munster: ná fanfadh sé?). If you see such a form as *níor fhanfadh, and the writer is a native speaker, you can be sure that he or she is from Munster and unsure about where to use the -r particles correctly. (This is what we call hypercorrection in English and forcheartú in Irish – i.e., extending a rule to where it does not apply, in an attempt to correct your nonstandard language.)

In Ulster, the conditional endings of the second conjugation again have two syllables (in books such as Cora Cinniúna with a dialectal spelling, you will see such examples as lagóchainn, lagóchadh sé; and probably lagóchthá and lagóchthaí instead of lagófá, lagófaí). And of course there are similar tendencies to use intrusive forms (d’fhoscólfá ~ d’fhosclófá).

As regards the pronunciation of the -f-, it is usually a [h], but an audible [f] in second person singular and in the autonomous form. (Note though that this rule does not apply to every dialect.) As in the future tense, if the verb stem ends in a voiced consonant, the [h] fuses with this to yield a devoiced one – thus, scríobhfainn is pronounced as scríofainn, sciobfainn as sciopainn, and so on.

The final -dh is usually pronounced as broad -ch (German “ach!”), but in Ulster it is a short u sound. Before a personal pronoun beginning with s-, i.e. sé, sí, sibh, siad, the -dh is at least in Ulster (but probably even in some other dialects) usually pronounced as -t. Thus, d’fhanfadh Seán is pronounced d’fhanfu Seán, but d’fhanfadh sé is more like d’fhanfait sé.

The personal endings -imis, -idís often take an extra -t: -imist, -idíst. IMHO this is most typically Ulster and Connacht Irish.

Sometimes the autonomous form is delenited under the influence of the past tense forms: fanfaí, caithfí, but I don’t think this is a particularly stable or regular feature in any dialect.

Habitual past. Habitual past, or imperfect, tells what used to happen in the past, often, frequently, repeatedly. It has basically the following forms:




chaitheadh sé


chaitheadh sibh






d’fhanadh sé


d’fhanadh sibh






d’osclaíodh sé


d’osclaíodh sibh



There is a very worrying tendency to use punctual past instead of habitual past in some elementary textbooks. This must be condemned, because it is quite unambiguously wrong. It is much better to use conditional mood instead of habitual past, because this is how some native dialects do, too.

Habitual past, as conditional mood, lenites initial consonants and takes the d’ before vowels and mute fh’s. However, it takes the r-less particles in negative, interrogative and subordinate contexts: nach bhfanainn/ná fanainn, chan fhanainn, ní fhanainn, go bhfanainn, an bhfanainn

Habitual past forms can be used after dhá “if”, mura/muna/mana “if not” and sula/sara, if there is a conditional mood in the main clause. In this context, the forms of habitual past are not called habitual past, but past subjunctive. Dhá n-osclófá an doras, bheadh cead isteach ag gach cineál feithidí. Or: Dhá n-osclaíteá an doras, bheadh cead isteach ag gach cineál feithidí. ‘If you opened the door, all kinds of insects could get in.’

My impression is that a native writer who uses both habitual past and conditional mood for referring to habitual past actions, there is a slight but perceptible difference between the two:

Thagadh sé ar cuairt chugam agus bheannaíodh sé do na cuairteoirí go léir. D’ólfadh sé braon agus bheadh comhrá aige le duine nó dhó, agus chaithfeadh sé tamall ag imirt chártaí nó ag damhsa. 

In this example, the habitual past forms (bold) refer to what always happened, i.e. this person used to come to visit me and greet everybody. Then we start using the conditional forms, when we refer to what typically happened, what this person typically might do at such an occasion, but did not do it in a particular order or not every time. If I say:

Thagadh sé ar cuairt chugam agus bheannaíodh sé do na cuairteoirí go léir. D’óladh sé braon agus bhíodh comhrá aige le duine nó dhó, agus chaitheadh sé tamall ag imirt chártaí nó ag damhsa.

…the impression conveyed is much more one of a ritual happening always in the same way and in the same order of events.

I confess that this is only my gut feeling, although it is based on a scene somewhere in Conchúr Ó Síocháin’s Gaeltacht autobiography Seanchas Chléire (known in English as The Man from Cape Clear). I will make the relevant fragment available here (with all bibliographical references) as soon as I can (and as soon as I find the book). 

By the way: in County Cork Irish it is common to leave the habitual past autonomous form delenited, which is another thing you will learn reading Ó Síocháin’s book. Thus, caití and fantaí are normal occurrences in that particular dialect.

Comments are welcome.


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